Wednesday, 28 November 2001

Alias Grace, Nov 28, 2001

Adapted by Laurence Strangio  from the novel by Margaret Atwood at The Annexe Trades Hall, Nov 28 to Dec 9, 2001
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

A fine collaboration between actor, director and designer is always a treat. When combined with a wonderful stage adaptation of an award-winning novelist, we have a special night.

Alias Grace is such a theatrical experience. The script adaptation by director, Laurence Strangio, is from the novel by Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood.

The versatile actor is Caroline Lee who developed the production with Strangio for its first season in 1999. It attracted two Green Room Award nominations.

Lee performs solo on a promenade stage. The audience is seated along one side as she prowls up and down on Anna Tregloan's evocative and prison-like angular set that is lit subtly by Bronwyn Pringle.

Lee is Grace Marks, the notorious 16 year old Canadian housemaid  gaoled in the 1840's for murdering her master, Thomas Kinnear and his housekeeper, Nancy.

Alias Grace is a well-crafted script with a compelling performance by Lee. She effortlessly tells Grace's life story and that of the murders in ninety minutes alone on stage. She plays the outwardly foolish maidservant as well as representing the knowing inner life of this disturbed but misunderstood girl.

Her performance has a strange and luminous quality. She crawls inside the peculiar, addled mind of Grace as she narrates and enacts her own story.

There is a wry humour to Lee's interpretation of Grace. Her delivery and timing are impeccable and the complexity of the performance is admirable.

Strangio allows the text and the actor to tell the story by leaving the narration uncluttered. He strips the novel back to the relationship between Dr. Jordan and Grace. We are in suspense until the final scene, waiting to discover the truth of her crime.

The denouement is more disturbing than we expect. Grace is not lying about her innocence. She merely has no knowledge of her guilt.

Scenes are defined by titles announced by Grace: Puss in the Corner, The Tree of Paradise. She introduces us to her doctor, Simon Jordan. Lee then shifts between Irish-accented Grace and Canadian Jordan.

Lee also plays Mary, Grace's murdered friend, her co-accused, McDermott who was hanged for their crimes, Nancy and Kinnear and sundry others.

Alias Grace is riveting theatre.

By Kate Herbert

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